UK at risk of another ‘horsegate’ scandal warns top expert

The UK is at risk of another ‘horsegate’ scandal similar to the one in 2013 which may have been responsible for up to 50,000 horses disappearing from across Europe, according to the country’s top food fraud expert.

Professor Chris ElliottProfessor Chris Elliott, who was appointed by the government to investigate the horsemeat scandal and food fraud in the UK, warned that unless the issue was taken seriously by authorities and the police, it was likely to happen again.

Speaking at a conference looking into food fraud this September, the professor said that:

  • Food fraud is an organised and global criminal enterprise involving gangs such as the Mafia and the Central American drug cartels
  • Up to 50,000 horses ‘disappeared’ from Europe during the financial meltdown which started around 2008.  People could no longer afford to keep them – and it’s probable a lot of these horses ended up in our food supply system
  • The 2013 horsegate scandal was a close call as there was little direct threat to public health, but next time we may not be so lucky

The professor, who is Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, issued the warning at the Fighting Food Fraud conference in Doncaster on 17 September 2015, hosted by Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance (‘HABC’), one of the UK’s leading exam boards.

Professor Elliott said, ‘2013 was a wake-up call for the UK.  While there was no direct evidence of a threat to public health, there have been food fraud scandals in other countries that have affected thousands – and in some cases hundreds of thousands – of people.   In China in 2008, over 300,000 infants were made ill by adulterated milk, with six sadly dying.  With organised gangs becoming attracted in to food fraud, we must act now to prevent public health threats. The idea that 50,000 horses could just disappear may seem incredible to some, but the scale at which some of these gangs can operate is huge.  Wherever there is money to be made – and the sums involved in food fraud are in the billions – criminals will find a way’.

He added, ‘The establishment of the National Food Crime Unit by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is a good first step and having spoken to its head, Andy Morling, I am hopeful that we can begin to tackle the issue and better protect the public.  The only way we can succeed is for everyone, from farmers and producers to retailers and the authorities, to work together to improve the tracking and auditing of our food supply chain’.

The Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks –Final Report: A National Food Crime Prevention Framework can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/350726/elliot-review-final-report-july2014.pdf

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Notes to editors:

  1. Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance (‘HABC’) is one of the UK’s leading awarding organisations, offering over 200 qualifications covering a wide variety of industries including food safety, customer service, health and safety, licensing, security, stewarding, retail, logistics, catering and hospitality.
  2. The Fighting Food Fraud conference took place at Doncaster Racecourse on 17 September 2015, and featured presentations from Professor Chris Elliott (Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast), Andy Morling (Head of the National Food Crime Unit, FSA) and John Figgins (Technical Specialist, British Retail Consortium).

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